Against commonsense: Unraveling mainstream understandings of diversity in elite schools through teacher professional development
Cole, Emily Frances
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A problem within many elite schools is the powerful undercurrents in these settings that neutralize how diversity is understood, in everyday ways of operating and in the formal curriculum. Although prior scholarship has well-identified this concern, missing from the literature are studies aimed at addressing the problem. Investigating inroads into challenging the "commonsense" logic of centered practices in elite schools is an important step to understanding how status quo ways of operating might be dismantled, and how a different energy might be generated, one that might propel a more critical, socially just orientation to take shape. This participatory study explores the efforts of a teacher inquiry group to interrogate meanings of diversity (i.e., race, class, gender) as understood in their setting - an independent school in a first ring suburb, with a sizeable minority population. Data sources include fieldnotes and transcripts from nine meetings of the teacher group, individual interviews of the teacher participants and school head, and a group interview one year after our sessions concluded. Grounded theory analysis of the data enabled an explanatory framework to be built around the question of how critical dialogue centered on issues of diversity is generated among teachers within a setting that maintained and promoted neutralized versions of those same issues. This study explores one inroad to addressing the problem of the neutralizing undercurrents surrounding diversity in elite schools. Analysis of the group's discussions revealed participants' perspectives, shaped by middle class values kept under wraps on this privileged landscape, generated a unique platform - where practices and policies were critiqued and ideas for change emerged. These findings suggest a terrain where marginalized perspectives can be voiced and alliances can be forged among diverse stakeholders, can act as a lever in sites of majority privilege, where challenging "just the way things are" can take hold and alternatives imagined. This seems a crucial step in carving a path to a more critical orientation toward issues of diversity, so needed in these settings.